Our final stop before Saigon was advertised as a small, beach town. Nate and I grew suspicious, though, when none of the locals we talked to seemed to have ever heard of it. When we arrived, a taxi from the train station dropped us in the center of town in front of what appeared to be The Karaoke Center of the World. Bright, dancing lights covered every inch of no fewer than five, music-blaring karaoke bars lining the street. Dazed, we found our way to a homestay. Figuring out the price of our stay only required Google translate, calculators, and one phone call to the owner’s daughter who knew more English. Once the amount was decided on, we were surprised to be invited by the owner to sit and drink tea with him. Indeed, when we left three days later, he invited us again to take part in some traditional snacks and a glass (or two) of rice-based cognac. Nate liked rice-based cognac. It made him extra happy.
The following days would reveal that Quy Nhon did have a beach, but the weather refused to cooperate, insisting on bringing chilly rain instead of the sun we’d hoped to enjoy. Undeterred, Nate and I did what Nate and I do best: eat. We were still having trouble getting a grasp on the various Vietnamese dishes, so we spent our time scouring the streets for food carts we hadn’t sampled yet. Our favorites were a bakery with the most delicious breads, muffins, and donuts, as well as a street cart with Banh Xeo, a sizzling, beef and shrimp filled pancake that is eaten with fresh veggies and wrapped in rice paper.
One night, on a rare occasion when we weren’t eating but sitting in our homestay room doing some blogging/podcasting, we heard cheering from various houses around us. It sounded as if everyone was watching the exact same game. Our suspicion was confirmed when we went out into the street and saw every household and café had a soccer game playing on TV. Vietnam was clearly playing an important game, and they were winning. We finally stopped long enough at a café to see Vietnam win in the last seconds of the game. Then the sleepy little town of Quy Nhon exploded in jubilee that made the shiny Karaoke bars seem dull by comparison. Within minutes the street was full of motor bikes and cars with passengers holding the Vietnam flag proudly in the air. Vietnam’s U23 team had beat Iraq to head to the semi-finals of the Asia Cup. It was so cool to witness such a proud moment for the country.